My family has its fair share of tales and stories. On my mother’s side there’s the story of one of my ancestors getting the maid up the duff and subsequently being forced to marry her. And there’s the great-great-great-great-uncle who left his illegitimate daughter enough money to buy ten horses. Best of all there’s just the simple fact that I had a great-great-uncle called Septimus, who was a tramp. On my Dad’s side there’s the tale of my Granddad surviving the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1947 thanks to the need to go to the lavatory. And how my Great-Granddad fled to Canada, leaving his wife and son behind for reasons that, to this day, we’re still not entirely sure about. There’s also the delightful fact that my Great-great-granddad (a veteran of the Boer War) had regimental tattoos on his shins, for the delightful purpose of “making it easier to identify the body.” Somewhere we’ve even got the bullet he used when he was forced to kill his horse before his journey back to Britain.
But despite all these quite brilliant anecdotes neither side of my family has anything you could describe as a legend; a tale passed down from father to son, generation after generation, describing acts of heroism and feats daring-do. A little thread reaching back into the far mists of time and into the murky times when our country was still a wild and untamed place full of danger and mystery. The only thread we have going back to that time is that my Great-Granny once found a black penny from 1296 in the mud on the banks of the Clyde. Since my family lacks this, I decided that I would give my fiction muscles a bit of a work out and I began to concoct a tale that I call the Legend of the Sword of the Clyde-born Mists. It’s a bit of an exercise in self-indulgence. I’m sure nearly everyone has always wanted to be descended from a genuine historic figure or someone who did something mind-bogglingly amazing that has since been lost to the ages and forgotten by all but your family. Something to be proud of and something to aspire to be like. I like to think of the divided and warring land of medieval Britain as a time of mystery and fear, a time of high adventure, of knights and dragons, of witches and warlocks, something vaguely Arthurian, only without so much incest. So yes, the tale is quite fantastical, utterly ridiculous and its relationship to historical fact is fleeting. As if the two met once at a party fifteen years ago, both commented on how terrible the music was and then never saw each other again. So for the sake of simplicity and art, I’ve taken some factual liberties.
Rather unsurprisingly the tale revolves around a mysterious heirloom called the Sword of the Clyde-born Mists. A name which is at once, both horrendously pretentious and all seven shades of awesome from radical red to vivacious violet; the regions of the awesome spectrum beyond these shades are also encompassed by the name but are sadly beyond the human ability to perceive, although high concentrations of Ultra-awesome have been linked to certain types of degenerative illness. A mammalian cell can only take so much awesome before shutting down. Swords play a big role in a lot of fiction, most notable are probably Excalibur and Andúril (Flame of the West). I suspect Freud could say a great many things about this. There’s even a mysterious figure who gives the sword to its wielder. While Arthur had the Lady of the Lake, I have decided to plug for a mysterious travelling moor from medieval Spain. Although it wasn’t actual Spain back then. Spain of course didn’t exists until the union of Aragon (not to be confused with Aragorn) and Castile in the late 15th century. Before then it was known as Al-Andalus or simply Moorish Iberia. But I digress. Why would a Moor be in 10th century Scotland I hear you say? The same reason Morgan Freeman was in Prince of Thieves. Because it’s cool and therefore has no need to bend its knee to logic nor pay tribute to reason.
Over the next week I hope to sketch out a more in-depth history of the sword as it passes through the generations, appearing at momentous events in Scottish history from the first Battle of Alnwick and the death of Malcolm III soon after, through to Bannockburn before finally being lost at the Battle of Culloden. A relic of a bygone age swept into obscurity by the coming of the cannon; the shame the family still bears in silence and the legend of its one day return. And so shall begin the tale of Máel Coluim mac Stàilinn and his descendants.
It’ll probably be shit, but it’ll also probably be fun.